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Automation Success Only Possible through Employee Engagement and Communication

by Thomas R. Cutler   |   July, 2014

Manufacturing firms managed by expert engineers, frequently lose sight of communications objectives. All the automation technology is futile if employees are disengaged, or worse unsafe. Employee engagement requires manufacturers have a systematic and tested method of reaching employees with important messages. These approaches engage and influence attitudes and behaviors.

According to Louise Dickmeyer, President of People Driven Performance, (PDP Solutions,, "Weekly news can be a good way to break down silos within an organization by sharing the activities and news from one division across the wider organization and vice versa."

Balancing the sheer volume of communication is congruent with lean manufacturing policies and principles. Employees on the plant floor can ill afford to be deluged with emails. Aggregating mass email messages and reducing email overload is a best practice.

When automation tools and solutions are introduced and implemented, employee behaviors need to be reinforced. New systems often are met with employee resistance; effective regular communication tamps down attachment to current techniques and production processes. Dickmeyer suggested, "Articles reinforce and promote information or messages within other communications channels such as the intranet, quarterly meetings, and one-on-one sessions."

Representational systems were developed by Bandler and Grinder; neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) explained how the human mind processes and stores information. More than 80% of plant floor workers relate best to a visual system. This notion has been frequently tested and statistically validated by shop floor workers who reported "I see what you're saying" indicating visual representation.

Dickmeyer suggested, "Manufacturers must include strategy-specific messages to help employees connect their day-to-day efforts with the aspirations of the company. It helps when manufacturing firms use strong visuals, such as pictures of people in action." Due to time constraints and production deadlines, employee communication messages must be kept simple and concise for maximum impact.

Too often management takes a tone of "us vs. them," setting an adversarial tone rather that sharing stories from a variety of perspectives -- the frontline, managers, and leadership. Quality communication is a discipline that must be shared from a people driven performance framework; it must inspire, educate, and reinforce.

All the technology systems are moot if the employee on the shop floor fails to grasp the notion of change management and business understanding. These communications often require consistent CEO and leadership messages. PDP Solutions found regular communication is especially important when acquisitions or new leadership takes place. Dickmeyer urged, "There must be a clear interim plan communicated to plant floor employees when one leader leaves, before a replacement is found. The same rigor is needed when restructuring a division, and reinforcing company culture and core values. Manufacturing leaders must explain the company's vision, goals, and strategies with regular updates on initiatives."

New Equipment Updates

Automation is often seen as a threat by some plant floor employees. New equipment may represent a feared reduction in working hours or a challenge in learning new technology. Much of this fear can be assuaged through effective employee communication. Manufacturers must openly share when and why new equipment is being ordered, what equipment it will replace, and why the investment is necessary. Direct lines of communication establish who is spearheading the equipment acquisition and (perhaps most importantly to employees) what difference it will make to operations, job functionality, and wages.

The engineering mindset is often project-oriented. This approach is often at odds with building long-term, loyal, and dedicated employees. Manufacturing CEOs and VPs of Operations may be unsure what to say or how to best communicate with plant floor workers. There is now a roadmap which integrates the efficacy of automation with employee engagement. The best automation without employee engagement is useless.
Thomas R. Cutler is the President & CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based, TR Cutler, Inc., ( Cutler is the founder of the Manufacturing Media Consortium including more than 4000 journalists, editors, and economists writing about trends in manufacturing, industry, material handling, and process improvement. Cutler is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists, Online News Association, American Society of Business Publication Editors, and Committee of Concerned Journalists, as well as author of more than 500 feature articles annually regarding the manufacturing sector. Cutler can be contacted at See More Details.

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